What does it mean to be an Asian American? Subtle Asian Traits.

What a millennial experience can contribute to the teenager's search for identity.


Six of the nine founders of “Subtle Asian Traits.” From left: Brendan Wang, 18, Anny Xie, 17, Darren Qiang, 17, Kathleen Xiao, 18, Angela Kang, 21 Tony Xie, 17. Taken from the New York Times.

For some, realizing your identity comes with an enlightening journey or a mid-life crisis. But for the thousands of members of a Facebook group, including me, it comes through memes.

Created by nine Asian Australian teenagers from Melbourne, the Facebook page, Subtle Asian Traits, started by bonding over a single struggle that comes with being a second-generation Asian immigrant: the dreaded, weekly Chinese school.

Founding members of SAT at the recent Facebook group meet-up in Australia. Taken from Subtle Asian Traits Facebook Group.

Now, with over a million members, Subtle Asian Traits is overflowing with jokes about the rites of passage of the second-gen experience.

Post made by a “Subtle Asian Traits” member of her own texts from her mother.

What makes this page so popular is its platform to express and conceptualize this mixed identity.

Similar to Rachel Chu from the blockbuster movie Crazy Rich Asians (minus the “Crazy Rich” stuff), many of us second-gen asians would stick out like a sore thumb in our parents’ country of origin. However, we do share similar upbringings — just in different households.

Subtle Asian Traits encompasses the idea of this third identity, one that is neither just Asian nor American (or any other nationality) hence the word “subtle.”

There are boba memes, Kumon jokes and word puns: surface-level understandings of being Asian in America, and the difficulty we find in expressing this separate identity leads us to this group. 

The struggles of this hybrid yet shared identity  — the struggles of attempting to become independent from our parents’ strict watch, recovering from racist attacks, or coping with a mental illness stemming from the pressures of our identity — bring together the audience.  

A post made by a “Subtle Asian Traits” member making a self-deprecating joke using word puns. The Mandarin pronunciation “yong” is shared between all four phrases in the grid. The phrase in the bottom right grid space signifies “useless.”


The purpose of “Subtle Asian Traits” is not achieved its growing and global fame. Rather, the virtue of this eclectic Facebook page is the way it associates people from everywhere throughout the globe. After all, the Facebook page was established to familiarize and joke about the unique, but common, details in our battles against our labeled heritage. 

In probably the most millennial way, Subtle Asian Traits highlights the upbringings of an Asian household, and how they are a crucial part of one’s personality, through memes and Facebook posts.

Although it is questionable as to how the group really helps us discover this hybridized identity, it does establish that being a second-generation — despite our physical appearance — cannot be labeled as purely Asian, just subtly Asian. 

As Kerry Chu from Crazy Rich Asian says, “Ni kan qilai shi huaren, ni jiang de shi zhongwen. Keshi zheli, hezheli… [Your face is Chinese. You speak Chinese. But here… (points to Rachel’s head and mouth)… and here…You’re different]” — and that resonates within us.